Whitehall sets poor example on equality

22 Feb 01
Whitehall's senior mandarins are likely to face a barrage of criticism in the next few weeks from a report that slates their race relations record.

23 February 2001

As Home Secretary Jack Straw set out a consultation exercise giving public bodies a legally enforceable duty to tackle institutional racism across the public sector, the Cabinet Office was preparing a damage limitation exercise on the critical study, due to be published in March by the Institute for Employment Studies.

The report, the second of a two-stage study of Whitehall, accuses senior managers of giving lower pay rises to their ethnic minority staff.

Its publication could not come at a worse time for the Cabinet Office, which has spearheaded numerous working practices aimed at bringing on ethnic minority staff and increasing the number of women in the top echelons.

On February 22, Jack Straw signalled the government's determination to root out institutional racism with a 60-page consultation document setting out the responsibilities facing Whitehall, the NHS and local government. All public bodies will be obliged to assess the impact of proposed policies and new services on their ethnic minority communities.

Speaking to Public Finance this week, a Cabinet Office spokeswoman cited the 'pathways' scheme – which includes mentoring, training and development, coaching and on-the-job opportunities – as an example of how the civil service was trying to change its approach.

She said: 'We are also reviewing the civil service competency framework to embed diversity in the culture. We are making clear that this is not an optional extra.'

The Commission for Racial Equality said the work of the Cabinet Office had helped to kickstart the equality agenda. However, a spokesman said the CRE realised that people still needed to be pushed to deliver.

Describing the consultation on the public duty as a 'fantastically important moment', the CRE said: 'We had a Race Relations Act which for 25 years was reactive not proactive, and organisations did not have to change the fundamental ways in which they worked. They will have to change now.'

Sarah Palmer from the local government Employers Organisation said the consultation was a step forward. She acknowledged that councils had experienced some difficulties in the past. However, the EO had developed a toolkit for councils which sets out the most frequently asked questions.


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